Category Archives: Just Watching

Just Watching – December 2017

The subtitle of Rich and Charlie Resources is clear enough.  Right?  Our goal is to write “An Encouraging Word For All Who Serve” which, more specifically, usually means the threesome of parents, pastor/teacher types and parish leaders.  So there you have it.  National officials, institutional executives and academic professionals of all sorts are valuable and important, but they don’t fall within our primary purview except as they may also be parents, pastors/teachers or parish leaders.

With that as context this edition of JUST WATCHING may seem to be about two items that may seem incidental to our published goal.  One is a person.  The other is a picture.  Without much of a stretch I see those two as conforming to our R and C Resource’s intention because within them the four “Fs” that stir up the best of life on earth are clearly visible. The four?  Faith, Family, Friends and Fun.  May I explain?

The person is Nancy (Olsen) Starck.  I don’t know whether Audrey and I came late into her life or she late into ours but either way we only knew her for a few wonderful years before on November 11, 2017, then 74 years old she went to the home to which she always knew she was heading.  Old?  Not Nancy. “Young,” sez Audrey and me from the perspective of 88.

Nancy came late into Audrey and my world when after her long, full and happy single life she met and married our friend, Richard Starck, a widower with whom she had once worked at AT&T.

I didn’t realize the size of her extended Olsen family and the number of friends she had developed over the years until literally hundreds of both poured into a Lion’s Club Banquet Hall on a recent Saturday afternoon some weeks after her death.  All four “Fs” were evident.  Lots of family.  Lots of friends.  Lots of faith.   And, of course, lots of fun.

The gathering took place even though Nancy was very specific about not wanting a funeral service, or a wake, or grave side ceremony.  She had spelled that out in her Will.  But as Dick explained to those who filled the hall, “…she didn’t say we couldn’t celebrate her life!”  And so it came to pass.

The program of the Saturday event began with five family/friends speakers briefly sharing recollections of her life which illustrated how Nancy lived the four “Fs”.  Capping the five was a touching moment when those present to whom Nancy had given hands-on help via an appropriate word or some act of kindness were asked to raise their hand.   There was a forest of arms.

Together with the pastor of her life-long church in which she had been very active I also had been asked to say a few words about Nancy and offer a prayer.  Few there knew me, why I was invited and even allowed to speak.  It was while the event was taking shape and happening that an answer to those concerns came to me.  But first a flash back.

When Dick and Nancy had been married just a few years previous to the Saturday “celebration” Audrey and I were the only guests invited to their wedding.  While Dick had many family members and friends near at hand in Chicagoland, and, of course, Nancy’s kith and kin were in local abundance, too.  But they (she) wanted their wedding to be focused to what they were doing in an event held in her home congregation.  It was her church and her pastor.  Balancing that was two of Dick’s friends.

Such a powerful and precious event.  The procession was Dick and Nancy coming in together singing a hymn they had chosen.  The music was provided by a young Korean student who at first provided random background music on a small organ before, at a pause in the service, she whipped out a ukulele, quietly sang, “You are my Sunshine” followed by a lively version of the same song.  It fit the moment to the twosome’s obvious surprise and joy.

Thinking about that wedding at her “celebration of life” it occurred to me how perfect and perfectly planned their wedding had been.  If family and friends had been invited (or even knew about it) the moment (her first and only wedding) would have been overwhelmed with a tidal wave of family/friends’ love and good intentions.  After a lifetime of her re came the preparing for this moment she decided it should be as private and personal as she and Dick could make it.

The moment at the Hall when I was to speak.  I kept it short and avoided “topping” the stories of any previous speaker.  I cited a little of Nancy’s humor (her e-mail address was “oldheifer @aol.com”), and then briefly said what I thought she would want me to share.  I told them of the many caring things Nancy had told Audrey and me about her family and her friends.  They were always much on her mind and in her heart.  Even as we celebrated her life that Saturday Dick offered to any in the group who didn’t know about Jesus the copy of the Christian primer that he and Nancy had been distributing whenever they could and wherever they went – now also at her Celebration.

So there you have it.  Elements of all four: family-friends-faith-fun ala Nancy (Olsen) Starck, a leading lady in Audrey’s life and mine.  She blessed whom she touched and she touched so many.  She knew about and blessed everyone she could with God’s Son-shine.

With that let me put at rest the abundance of good feelings about one special 4-F person whom Audrey and I were privileged to meet this side of eternity and turn to the 4-F picture, a 15th century etching, that has also been so much on my mind of late.

I’ve seen the etching many times in the past.  I’d bet you’ve seen it, too.  Likely done by Luther’s good friend, Cranach the Elder, it is a candid snapshot, frozen in time, of a happy and relaxed family, (maybe Luther’s?) who were interacting in a mid-winter moment.  In the etching are four involved adults and five active children.  Laying around are a number of musical instruments and all kinds of toys with what looks like a large, candle-lit and decorated fir-tree branch in the background.

The more I considered the etching the more I was struck by the obviously intergenerational family that it featured, some gifts (maybe from or made by friends?), multiple signs of faith in action with an overarching canopy of plain old everyday fun in décor and activity that permeates the scene.  It looks a lot like many a Christmas-past I have had.  Or was I just seeing what I was looking for?

In any case the picture and person I’ve written about reminds me of how important it is for me to seek and treasure the 4-Fs indicators that are all around me this Christmas season: family, friends, faith and fun.  I (we) need to stop, look and listen, the more the better.  Anything Rich and Bob Bimler, Dick Koehneke and all the others who contribute to R and C Resources can do to support and enhance your life the happier will be the balance of 2017 and however many more years into the future God has planned for us.

Here’s to the Son-shine, your 4-Fs – and mine!

Charlie

Just Watching – November 2017

Home-made Seminaries

While the Christian church was coming of age it developed a four-fold educational package that is still at work in many effective Christian homes, Christian congregations and in much of what is now its educational system for training church workers. That fourfold package involves: 

  1. Identifying and organizing the basic teachings of the church;
  2. A process for studying the Old and New Testament in order to determine their true meaning;
  3. Tracing God’s hand in His family’s pilgrimage from creation to today and beyond;
  4. Spelling out what God wants His children to do in His world and how He wants them to do it. .

In today’s accredited seminary world those four educational accents normally divide into a Systematics Department, an Exegetical Department, a Historical Studies Department and a Practical Studies Department.  What fascinates me is that over the centuries the same four educational accents shape the curriculum of what I call the “home-made seminaries” that parents, sometime aided by pastors and teachers of their day, developed and operated.

When Rich and I gather material for R and C Resources it’s not modern seminaries and their faculties we intend to encourage and support – though we are deeply concerned with declining seminary enrollment, with the age at which many seminarians graduate (where have all the flowers gone?), with too-many congregations and other important full-time ministries that are unsuccessfully seeking trained workers to help them with their harvests.  As important as that all is it is increasingly obvious to Rich and me that the church’s survival is not dependent on seminaries or organizational institutional structures but on the health of its homes and churches, parents and clergy.   The back story of the Bible is not one of deliverance through successful organizations and professional workers but of families and intimate religious communities, established by God, that are the frontline of man’s battle with sin, death and the devil. 

Over time that hasn’t changed.  Christian parents, clergy and church leaders were and are God’s “grunts” in His war with Satan.  As that war unfolds in today’s world the niche R and C Resources has carved out for itself is that of encouraging those servers chosen by God, who in words of the sainted Dr. Harry Coiner do their work, “…where the rubber hits the road”. 

And who knows more about both the rubber and the road than the Moms, Dads and family members who, assisted by a parish’s pastors and teachers, are the faculty that make home-made “seminaries” effective?  The curricular outline of today’s nationally accredited seminaries, (Systematic, Exegetical, Historical and Practical Theology), are older than the institutions that use it.  They had been previously developed over the centuries for use in the “home-made seminaries” of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’s ancestors, all Old Testament families.  When it became Mary and Joseph’s turn do His work, Luke 2 tells us they established their own “home-made seminary” that turned out a number of great graduates not the least of whom was Jesus. 

Later stories of how the Gospel spread from Pentecost to the Reformation are filled with reports of faithful parents supported by pastors and teachers who established and conducted thousands of “home-made seminaries”.  

Lutherans delight in tales of how Katy and Martin Luther had their own home-made Wittenberg “seminary” that not only were their own family and guest boarders, Luther even produced a home-made catechism that he shared with others during his life.   As a tool for teaching life’s most important lessons, that nearly 500 year old catechism with its what-does-this-mean and how-is-this-done, is still a useful text book in today’s “home-made seminaries”.  

As I was thinking about this issue of Just Watching my mind turned to how my own parents, our pastor and parochial school teachers, mimicked their distant past and current academic betters by developing a Kansas version of a “home-made seminary”.  As I came of age it functioned at various Wichita, Kansas locations.  Classes were taught at 1151 S. St Francis (our home), 909 S. Market (our church) and 320 Ellis (our day school).  It was in session year ‘round, the earliest ones being the simple meal and bedtime prayers my parents taught me.  They introduced to Systematic Theology and that even a child can grasp that God is to be honored and that He cares about us.  

At different times and various locations I was taught bits and pieces of the catechism, learned hymns, listened to lessons and sermons and all while at Immanuel Lutheran School worked my way deeper into God’s Word, grade after grade.  

Back home, at our kitchen table my parents reinforced what I was being taught in church and school.  I was experiencing Christian team-teaching at its best.  Little did I know that as I was growing up I was quietly being introduced not only to Systematic Theology but  two other core elements of my “home-made seminaries” curriculum:  Historical and Exegetical Theology.  We didn’t call what we were doing by those names.  I didn’t know what Mom was reading to us from Egermeier’s Story Book was Historical Theology.  Or that the same thing could be said about Mrs. Brenneisen’s Sunday School lessons or the Bible history classes at school.  It all added to my grasp of what God had been doing across the centuries, and, more important, what He is still doing today.  

Woven into what we were learning about God’s hand in history was our introduction to Exegetical Theology, or to put another way, what the specific words in God’s Word meant.  Over time the meaning of words like sin, grace, forgiveness and hope were explained to me and I was taught how to mine for the meaning of terms like, “kingdom of God” or phrases like, “trust in the Lord”.  Some of our growing understanding of what the words God used in the Bible meant came from our study of different languages but a lot of it came from the life witness of those who taught in our “home-made seminary”. 

The final component of my “home-made seminary’s” curriculum is Practical Theology, a seminary topic that explores ways to apply in life what we have learned in His Word.  For me the catalogue of what that involves includes at least six components: worship, witness, fellowship, service, teaching/learning and stewarding.  It’s in those six areas that my commitment to walk God’s walk and talk God’s talk is put into practice.  My understanding of what that is and how it is done grew from my “home-made seminary’s” Systematic, Exegetical and Historical Theology studies. 

The bottom line for all this at my stage in life is that if my own “home-made Seminary” (defined in Joshua 24:15 as “me and my house”) isn’t accredited by God and functioning at its best I need to get busy and change my ways as a person, parent and grandparent – while I still can.  

If that be your desire, Rich and Charlie Resources pledges to help you or, failing that, pledges to help you find the help you need.   In any case we are here to encourage any and all who are determined to improve their “home-made Seminary’s” effectiveness.

That’s where I stand on October 31, 2017.  I am still enrolled in the home-made “seminary” I’ve long attended.  It is still taught by the shadowy remembrances of its outstanding faculty: Walt and Aurelia Mueller, Pastor L.H. Deffner and Teacher Harold Leimer.   But that’s not the whole of it. 

I’m determined to do all I that can to encourage Audrey and my children and grandchildren (plus our sixteen great grandchildren tykes already on the scene) to establish their own “home-grown seminary”.  National church bodies and internationally acclaimed Seminaries have come and gone over the centuries but God’s own “home-made seminaries” keep going year after year folding one into the next as we and the future He has in store for all moves toward His great finale.  What a day that will be!

Meanwhile, when and where is our “home-made seminary” class?

Blessings,

Charlie

Just Watching – October 2017

Dr. Roger Weise, a highly regarded Chicago area geriatrician (and LCMS pastor’s son), must have really impressed me more than a decade ago because in successive issues of JUST WATCHNG I cited his three comments on the ageing process.  Remember them?  I do.

  1. Age is change over time.
  2. As we age it takes us longer to adapt to change.
  3. The older we are the more unique we become.

I was impressed with his three-some in my early 70s.  Today as an 88-year-old I am still in awe of them.  They are so true!  Sad to say, there are some my age and younger, who don’t have a glimmer about what Dr. Weise’s crystal clear comments mean.  As if that’s not bad enough they are often just as ignorant about how those three basics on ageing apply to families and congregations.  People, families and parishes –  

  • all age and change over time;
  • can have a hard time adjusting to internal and external change because their plate is already so full;
  • with the passing years, each becomes more unique – whether for “good” depends on them.

Their question is always whether they, or their family, or their congregation recognize that the unstoppable steam engine of change is high-ballin’ down their life’s main line, bell ringing and whistle blowing.   Johnny Cash asked, “Do you hear that train a-commin’?”  Well, do I, we, they?

In that regard have you noticed how today’s younger folks-families-congregations accept, adapt to and then adopt the choo-choo of change so much more easily than their older counterparts?  Many have clearly taken Alexander Pope’s 1711 advice (which shows how long this thing about change has been around),

“Be not the first by whom the new are tried,

Nor yet the last to lay the old aside.”

In that quote I didn’t pick up on his “are tried” at first.   Pope’s “the new” that “are tried” is a plural.  There’s lots of new going around.  It was a constant in his day.  It is still a constant in ours. 

  • That’s why some church’s yesterday’s avant-garde parish practices look so weathered and worn today. They didn’t keep changing. 
  • That’s why many of yesterday’s tried and true family traditions look so irrelevant today. They no longer address our needs.
  • That’s why yesterday’s clothing fashions and its pop music are so easily recognized as dated today. Neither kept up with the changing times. 

Over time, yesterday’s absolutes turn into “barnacles our boat”.  Our challenge is not that of dealing with accumulated micro-organisms but of coping with layers of thread outmoded traditions, tired old practices and rules that make no sense.  Woe to the individual-family-congregation that does not regularly beach its boat and scrape off the accumulated residue of yesterday that not only slows them down but leaves them with little time or energy for claiming the important new core insights that each generation develops when it comes to stage center.   And come they do.  

Observation #2, “As we age it takes longer to adapt to change” is a toughie, too.   It demands two somewhat contradictory actions by individuals-families-congregations.  

  1. It is a matter of learning, claiming and adding things that are new, while
  2. Pitching overboard irrelevant and unused things that are “old”.

That’s hard to do.  Older people like Audie and me know that full well.  We have down sized our home three times and in the process reluctantly dumped what we don’t use, no longer need and our kids don’t want. 

Weise’s Observation #2 opens the door to Observation #3:  “…with the passing years, each becomes more unique, unencumbered with much of yesterday’s absolutes.  Or, tragically, still weighed down with yesterday’s irrelevancies.

One way or another, people/families/churches get more unique as the years pass.  It’s fascinating to study how older churches take on a patina of uniqueness.  One nameless “old lady” refused for years to translate its original German language Constitution into English even though only a few spoke their mother tongue.  When tough issues arose they would tussle with it long enough to develop a kind of consensus and then ask the pastor, whom they all trusted and whom they believed read German, what their hallowed document had to say on the subject.  Smart as he was once he sensed what the group was ready – or not ready – to do he announced their group opinion was what the Constitution said!  He was their 20th century Oracle of Delphi. 

This church also had their Easter Sunrise Services at 9:30am for two reasons: 1) fewer members each year were willing to drive to their city location before 6am, and 2) and the neighbors whom they were trying to attract didn’t get up at the crack of dawn.  So they did the Joshua-thing: they made their Easter sunrise arrive at 9:30am.  Only a unique congregation could pull that off.

One theme I see that individuals, families and parishes: change is a constant.  Dr. Weise’s addition to that thought is that change like Times watches is a constant that takes a licking and keeps on ticking.  Nothing makes that point clearer to this older pastor that liturgical vestments.  How radically and constantly liturgical vestments have changed since I bought my first black de rigueur Geneva gown in 1949!  Time and tide wait for no man?  True, but why not add, “Time and change don’t dawdle either.”

So here I am, face to face with Dr. Weise’s simple assertion about me, my family and my church: “Age is change over time.” Ain’t it the truth!

Blessings,

Charlie van Winkel

Just Watching – September 2017

It looks to me more and more each day that Henry Lyte’s 1847 hymn, “Abide With Me”, had it right: “…change and decay in all around I see…”. Change for sure. And a lot of what’s left of my surroundings looks like decay.

Lest you think you are about to be hit with the rant of a cranky old let me assure you that as I write I know, accept and glory in the rest of that verse: “… Oh Thou who changest not abide with me.”

Henry completed this hymn three weeks before his death from tuberculosis. Knowing that has helped me appreciate his masterpiece as a whole and that familiar line in particular. His theme and the way he peppered his end-of-life hymn with the pronouns “I” and “me” that has made it a faith favorite for nearing 300 years.

Change has been a generational constant from our world’s Day One whether as between generations or within them. And decay? The ardent evolutionist’s premise that creation has trended toward improvement over the eons doesn’t match my perception or experience.

Maybe that’s why a precis of Concordia Seminary’s Dr. Paul Raabe that I found in Concordiatheology.org struck me as it did. His topic was challenges (he called them “Elephants in the Room”) in items that LCMS congregations as a whole and her members individually face every day. I’ll list his specifics and then leave it to you to determine how each plays out in your world. By the way, he says they are all interconnected.

Elephant 1.  The challenge of a geographical mismatch we face in that most congregations and schools of the LCMS are located in the middle of the country and in rural areas but most of the US population lives on the two coasts and in huge metro areas.

Elephant 2.  The challenge of reaching and attracting the multi-ethnic population in the U.S., (Hispanics, Africans, and Asians, for example) into our predominately Caucasian congregations. Families? Communities?

Elephant 3.  The challenge of non-church-attendance.  Surveys show that on any given Sunday only 18% of the U.S. attends a church…over 80% do not. Are most Americans simply not “into” church and as Robert Putnam would put it, they go “bowling alone?”

Elephant 4.  The challenge of working in a multi-religious environment not only with non-Christian religions but also with many different versions of Christianity.  Many Americans we seek to evangelize have preconceived notions about Christianity that are typically distortions of the Christian faith and life.

Elephant 5.  The challenge of biblical illiteracy among church-going Christians.  Many Christians cannot speak and think in biblical ways; they only know a few biblical soundbites.  Along with that many Lutherans are unfamiliar with the basic documents of our denomination like the Small Catechism (not to mention the Large).

Elephant 6.  The challenge of living the Christian-life in this time and place.  What writes the script for non-Christians view of life writes the script for many Christians as well: the entertainment industry, social media, corporate America, radical individualism and current popular ideologies.  As a result, the life of many Christians differs very little from that of non-Christians.

Dr. Raabe’s “wrap” is as challenging as his Six Elephants:

“Every generation is called to be faithful in its own time and place, to confess the truth of the gospel (Galatians 2:5), to teach the written Word of God in its truth and purity (2 Timothy 2:15; 3:15-17), to walk in the ways of the Lord (Isaiah 2), to proclaim repentance unto the forgiveness of sins to all nations (Luke 24:44-49).  With such huge, overwhelming, elephant-like challenges facing us, we are tempted to lift up our hands and cry out in utter despair, “What’s the point?”  But it is 2017 anno domini, in the year of the Lord.  Jesus the Messiah, crucified and risen for all, is that Lord.  Therefore our labor in his name is not in vain.”

So…

How are you dealing with the Six Elephants in yourself and in your world of family, church and community? Denying that the Elephants do not loom large in your life won’t cut it.

I once saw a book plate featuring a sailing ship hull down heading toward for the horizon and the words, “More to Come”. That’s a very Biblical take on life both existentially (our day-in-day-out stuff) and eternally (Henry Lyte’s abide-with-me views). We are all that ship, sails full and billowing, driving through the waters toward a horizon over which we will topple into oblivion (as some see the future), or are heading with Henry and millions of God’s people past and present toward and into our home port. What about you?

As for me and my house we believe there’s more to come – and more to do – until as we are safely harbored with Him.

Bon voyage,

Charlie

Just Watching – August 2017

As I wind my way down the road to an eighty-ninth birthday two things are on my mind that I can’t shake:

A Lot of Actuarial Stuff and Psalm 31:14, 15

For starters, an Actuary is a professional who measures and manages risk and uncertainty. She/he applies mathematical calculations, analytical skills, business acumen and a studied view of human behavior in order to design programs that control risk.

What they do is at the heart of insurance offerings, pension plans, IRA projections and (as I have lately come to understand) admission to many senior-living facilities. That’s where Audie and I developed a fascination for Actuaries and for actuarial tables.

Before I toddle on with talking about actuarial matters let me turn to a second and related item: Psalm 31:14ff with a somewhat different take on dealing with risk. One translation of the Psalm reads, “But I trust in Thee, O Lord. I say, ‘Thou art my God.’ My times are in your hands…” Those words are similar to those of Psalm 139:16 and to a lot of other Biblical references about how life is not so much shaped by predictable mathematical projections as by the unpredictable and loving mind of God. With that, let’s get back to the actuarial world.

For some time Audie and I have been looking into our long-term housing needs. There is a wide range of choices related to gender, age, marital status, physical condition, mental stability and financial circumstance. Those are all qualifying criteria for admission into senior housing.

We found that those who interview prospective residents are gracious and caring people anxious to help others find a happy home. They wanted applicants to qualify for admission but as employees they tended the interests of the managing organization as well as that of those who had qualified, made a significant financial commitment and were now residents. With few exceptions long term residents for seniors are not eleemosynary institutions.

As we surveyed retirement facilities near us we came upon one we liked and decided to see if we qualified for admission. We are healthy for our age, seemed to be of a sound mind to the lady who interviewed us, were married (and intend to stay that way), of near identical age and had enough assets plus our future income from Social Security and various pensions to make us look like prospective clients. All that data was turned into actuarial grist to be ground in a computerized actuarial mill. The results were not long in returning.

Too bad. Based on the actuarial marital-gender-age-health-financial facts Audie and I submitted we did not qualify for admission. The result had nothing to do with us as Audie and Charlie. It was just how actuarial data and the statistical averages sometime work.

We weren’t upset. Facts are the facts as our interviewer using a graph that showed me as one line of costs and Audie as another scored against our anticipated income and expenses over the coming years. It went like this:

Though the male graph line (me) was a few months younger than the female (Audie) and moved at differing speeds. The male line (me) was actuarially projected to physically falter a few years into the future but about a year sooner than the female line (Audie). When that happened the male line (me) would be transferred to the next higher level of institutional care – at a projectable increased per diem cost. The female line (Audie) would actuarially follow the pattern of the male line (me) a tad over a year later.

For about the next three years my graph line and Audie’s stay at that same actuarial level until the male line (me) upgrade (or maybe downgrades?) to full time nursing care – at a significant additional cost, of course. The other line (Audie) was projected to follow me some time later but that wouldn’t make any difference. Soon after my line graduated to nursing care the Mueller financial well actuarially goes dry.

Please don’t think I am making light of what we experienced of our time with those who build and maintain senior residences. What they are committed to is making actuarial sense.

But as I think about my/our future I recognize that trumping and superseding the actuarial views of life are Bible – like the fickle finger of fate decried in Daniel 5:1-20; or, like Luke 12:15-21’s rich man who said to himself, “…you have ample goods laid up for many years, take your ease, eat, drink and be merry”, to whom God responded, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you…whose will these things then be?”; and especially like the life story inherent in Psalm 23.

We should not make light of or ignore actuarial factors in life. They are often very good guidance.  But they are not the last word about our life.  Our Father has that.  He who numbers our days, actuarial tables to the contrary notwithstanding.

Now I wonder what He has in mind for Audie and for me from here on.  Or, maybe you?

 Charlie

Just Watching – July 2017

So what’s on my mind as we come at another Fourth of July?  It’s something from which I can’t seem to shake free. 

For the sake of my family and the amazing number of great-grandchildren they are producing (fourteen for the moment with two more expected by Christmas); for the sake of the parish to which I belong and its member’s faithful ministries of worship, witness, service, fellowship, stewarding and teaching; for my own continued growth as I steadily inch my way to 90 I can’t forget Christianity’s long-time commitment to Apologetics, Patristics and Logic

Let me open with what might strike some as a “spoiler”: all three of those subjects were dropped by my Seminary a little before I enrolled there in 1948.  Most other Sems had long since bid them farewell before then.  Bad decision.  It’s like they issued us shiny theological rifles without many of the bullets I would need to effectively use them as pastor – and even as a parent.  

Let me explain what I might have better learned at the Sem than on my own over the next seven decades, starting with APOLOGETICS.  It’s a word that has little to do with today’s softer “apology” or “apologize”. 

Apologetics is a word early Christians snatched from the Greek legal system.  Defendants charged with a crime opened their defense in court with an Apologia – a word that combined apo (against or away) with logia (speak).  It was the defendant’s chance to rebut the charges. 

Once the word was adopted by the Church, an apologia was a no-nonsense defense whether of a person, or a theological position, or a moral stance.  The word appears 17 times in the New Testament where it is often translated as “offering a reasoned defense”, for example, by Paul (Philippians 1:7,16) or Peter (I Peter 3:15).  and others.  Paul and Peter were outstanding Apologists.  You knew where they stood on issues and the rationale of their position. 

Today’s parents, pastors and parish members need apologetic skills today to explain and defend the social, moral and theological positions Christians take today.  What better way to do so than by studying what pastors and parents in the New Testament era (plus many Old Testament prophets and priests, parents and people of God) did in the past?  

PATRISTICS zeroes in on the Apologias that hundreds of early Christian leaders offered when they faced a wide variety of challenges both within the church and from the secular world.  What they said and/or did in all kinds of circumstances is not only fascinating reading but help in framing a response in problems more close to home.  

The word Patristics is derived from similar sounding Greek and Latin words for father.  Christians wanted to know who was the “father” of various teachings being presented.  What our spiritual ancestors wrote or said about hundreds of Christian teachings yesterday can help today’s parent, pastor or Christian leader deal with similar concerns as they crop up today.  And crop up they do. 

LOGIC is the art/skill of how Apologetics and Patristics are dealt with today.  It has to do with critical thinking and a system of reasoning.  The carefully developed Rules of Logic are as important to meaningful discussion and useful debate as the Rules of Baseball are to playing that game or Roberts’ Rules are to managing a convention.

Logic and its rules are nothing new.  It was taught in the Greek and Roman academies in the days of Aristotle and Socrates and years later when St. Paul was a student.  Paul showed how well he had mastered Logic on a number of occasions recorded both in the Acts of the Apostles and in his New Testament epistles.   Logic is one of the first things that goes missing in today’s political debates that feature adversaries simultaneously screaming at each other with no one listening to what their opponent is saying. 

It is also often AWOL when marriage partners, parents and people in social groups struggle with basic life issues.  Successfully discussing the moral complexities of today call for Christians capable of rational discussion and reasoned response.  Both are linked to Logic.  But is it logical for me to hope that something like these few paragraphs will push some readers to learn more about Logic?  I hope so.  It did me. 

But what’s the point in writing about Logic, Apologetics and Patristics in 2017, in view of R and R Resources’ express intention to focus on encouraging parents, pastors and parish/community leaders to “keep the faith”?

Tragically the institutional church mothballed those effective defensive and offensive weapons in its war with Satan for the hearts, minds and souls of those for whom Christ died.  Instead of garbing itself like the Christian soldier Paul described in Ephesians 5:13-17, many of us have our military gear degrade and fall into disrepair.  We march off to war looking more like an army of rhinestone cowboys than the Christian soldiers about whom we so lustily sing. 

With AP&L in hand we need to

  1. …rediscover what the Mission Affirmations adopted unanimously at the LCMS’ 1965 Detroit Convention were all about. They were never repudiated – only abandoned.  What a loss!  What a shame! 
  2. …identify and resist enemies of congregations and families like: a) irrational and unbiblical resistance to change and b) repressive autocratic authoritarianism that destroys Christian community.
  3. …shift from a draining concern for LCMS Inc. to doing all we can to strengthen congregations and build strong families and thus reinvigorate the historic LCMS in the process.

In Dr. CFW Walther’s inaugural address as president of what in that time became the LCMS he rhetorically asked whether there was any hope that Germans from such radically different historical, cultural and economic backgrounds could effectively work together.  His answer with an emphatic yes.   He attributed his answer to the power of the Word of God and the new organization’s commitment to advising and persuasion rather than to institutional authoritarianism.  Sound familiar?

That confidence which shaped LCMS practices over its first 130 years has been steadily diluted over the past 45 even as the LCMS has been in steady decline.  The principles under which the LCMS blossomed as it came of age are the same principles that can bring today’s families – and parishes – to full bloom. 

Christian families and congregations that are aggressively APOLOGETIC in the way they come at life, function hand in hand with what PATRISTICS teach and analyze the issues that arise guided by applied LOGIC will do well in the days that lie ahead.  Otherwise?

Happy 4th!  

Charlie

Just Watching – June 2017

PART ONE:

  1. A Thought for our Day – from Margaret Mead:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  Sounds like, “Little drops of water, little grains of sand…”  Possible? 

  1. Another Thought for our Day – from Wayne Dyer:

“When you change the way you look at a thing the thing you look at changes.”   Now, let’s see – over the years how many things are there about which I have changed my view?  Be honest, Charlie.  Count them.  All.  Need another piece of paper?

  1. And One More Thought for the Day

Upon reading that I have passed my 88th birthday friend Dick Koehneke posted me: “Your years of life on earth now match the number of keys on the piano (and now) you’re expanding the keyboard!  I am looking forward to (hearing) the new keys you will play.” 

What a stimulating thought, very heartening to me as it should be for the 3% of the US population who are over 88!  That’s about 10,000,000 people now playing on an ever expanding “keyboard”.  So, let’s hear those new tunes played by golden oldies!

PART TWO:

Part One’s three “Thoughts for the Day” nicely elide with a posting I received from Wayne Piper, friend, fabulous layman, marketing whizz-bang and intellectual stimulator.  

Assuming you are past ordering what you want from the Sears Catalogue and are into Wayne’s Amazon.com world, his article gives the three earlier “Thoughts” an intriguing twist.  His insights stirred me and hopefully will do no less for my 88-and-beyond peers.  It begins with acknowledging the world today is our children-grandchildren-great-grandchildren’s moment.  Our obligation is to meet and help our descendants at the various stages of their journey to our eternal home.  But how?

Wayne’s article suggests that we adapt Amazon.com’s bottom-up approach.  They don’t come down on their prey like “a wolf on the fold” (to use Lord Byron’s simile for how Sennacarib’s 7th century BC Assyrian army overwhelmed Jerusalem).  Amazon’s approach starts with identifying a person’s needs rather than pressing a seller’s product.  Wayne writes about this in an article entitled:

What if Amazon Sold the Gospel?”

“An innocent inquiry into a product price or feature on Amazon.com immediately surround you with advertisements for similar or related products.   That’s controversial but effective one-to-one marketing with less emphasis on slick mass appeal campaigns but more focus on you – as an individual.  The more a marketing organization understands you – your interests, needs, concerns, etc. – the more effectively products can be selected and offered to attract your interest.

Comparing this to the perfect model of Christ and His delivery of the gospel shows many parallels.  Consider the Sermon On The Mount (Matthew 5).  Using oration as the available communication vehicle of the time, Christ delivered a segmented message to His audience. 

More poignantly, there is the private conversation with the woman at the well (John 4), and the selective attention given to the woman with an issue of blood (Matthew 9).

These were no one-size-fits-all deliveries of the Gospel, but effective one-to-one messages that were directed to the need and concern of the moment.  Of course, this parallel to today’s marketing has one notable exception.  Christ was not motivated by the desire to sell anything. Instead, His message was delivered out of love for the individual, love fully and sincerely expressed in a personal way to the situation of the moment.

Dare we think about this analogy from a current perspective? Would Christ or should the Church use Amazon as a current delivery model for His Gospel?  It isn’t a top down denominational approach.  It doesn’t have an attendance, a course, or even a literacy prerequisite.  Instead it would be a bottom up mechanism replacing dogma with concern, knowledge and above all love for the individuals He has placed before us. Perhaps it is time.”

Wayne’s insight made me wonder how the organized denominational church, local parishes, the pastor, the family and community leaders should review and revise the way they approach God’s children of every separate generation.    More specifically, how can I as an 88 year old parent, grandparent and great-grandparent, adapt an Amazon.com way of thinking as I interact with my Millennial descendants?   Or with my post-88 peers?  I know a lot about generational needs because I’ve been there and done that.  But I also know that “the times are changing and we are changing in them”.  The record of a Amazon/Jesus way of identifying bottom-up assistance works much better (as Jesus shows) than pre-fabbed top-down solutions – though the better way can take longer. 

At the moment, Audie and I are exploring how to use our 88-note (plus one) life keyboard to make helpful music for our nesting of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  In trying to effectively practice what Wayne preaches we are committed to learning all we can about what living in Millennial moccasins is like.  This much for sure: it’s not the same as dealing with the future we faced when we were their age. 

We are trying to figure out ways to meet them where they are hand in hand with our best Friend.  Any suggestions for how we might best do that?  We’ll report to you next month about what we are doing that would help us – and what insights Wayne’s Amazon.com article has stirred in you. 

Blessed bottom-up summer to all,

Charlie

Just Watching – May 2017

Acting My Age at Eighty-Eight

One of many apocryphal tales about my friend Harvey Stegemoeller has him correcting a rambunctious son with, “Act your age.”  The problem with Harvey’s comment is that the son in question was acting age appropriate – he was seven years old.  The question for me and my peers is what does acting age appropriate look like for us, today?

Since the last Just Watching I have zoomed past a birthday sometime described as the “Double Snowman”.  I am now 88 years old.  I’d be delighted to “act my age” if I knew for sure what that means.

What if I did a case study of how my male ancestors who lived longer than 88 years went about living the full life?  No go.   I am the longest living Mueller male in direct line of descent going back to 1680 and likely into the fog beyond.  When it comes to listing Mueller males who have lived more than 88 years, I’m it.  I’m sure that had they lived longer they would have been great models for me.  Maybe.

My sweet wife, Audie, is my age, even five months and a few days older.  But I can’t use her as a model for one inescapable reason.   While based on the calendar we about the same age in reality we aren’t.  Everyone knows that women at birth are at least five years more advanced in all of life’s key categories than men their same chronological age.  I love, appreciate and admire my wife but there’s no way I can model my life after hers.  I’m huffing and puffing the way it is just barely keeping her in sight.

OK, so what if I modeled my actions after the many great guys with whom I’ve associated over the years plus some I’ve admired from afar?  Problems.

  1. The majority of those who were my peers are gone. At 88 my circle of active life-long friends has gotten much, much smaller.
  2. Of those who have so far survived with me many are dealing with full time health issues. I pray for them and wish them well.  We’re on different pages.
  3. The bottom line is that both my personal world as well as the world in which I now live have changed so extensively that yesterday’s guidance doesn’t fit me facing many of today’s challenges.  That was the world that was. 

So here I am, unsure about where to turn for guidance about how to properly act my age when a Wayne Dyer quote comes to mind:

 “When you change the way you look at a thing, the thing you look at changes.”

What I need are 88 year old eyes to see my Charlie Mueller world as it is and for what it is.  Step two?  Shape my role at 88 to all that change. 

The temptation for those of us who are older is to do the King Knute-thing.  He was a 10th century Danish king who determined to stop the ocean’s rising tide by standing hip deep in its surf while lashing the sea with a whip.  Chaucer (or a Mr./Mrs. Anonymous from the even more distant past) wrote, “Time and tide wait for no man”.  Do I hear an Amen?  At 88 I want nothing to do with stopping tides of authentic and necessary change.   

So here I am with all of you, a few my age, trying to make the most of life in a world that is as different from the one I entered in 1929 as night is from day.  One big difference?  Most my male ancestors didn’t hardly make it to 70 and those who looked like they might early on bee-lined for the rocking chair where they crocheted, knitted, whittled or sucked away on a pipe depending on their preferences.  But today? 

You’d think that for Audie and me (and others like us) the “Golden Years” of life would be as laid back today as it was for those who were older in the past.  No way.  That life-style went south as life expectancy steadily increased attributable to all kinds of improvements from daily diet to modern medicine to cleaner air.  If today’s octogenarians want to do more than just survive they will find themselves living a life that is more exciting, lively, busy and challenging than it has ever been before.  How can it not be so for the two of us given our four grown children (and their spouses), a cup overflowing with grandchildren by birth/marriage and the cherry atop our familial sundae thirteen great grandchildren – with more on the way.  That isn’t the life either in sweep or scope we foresaw when we married in 1953.  Our world is like an out-of-control carousel that instead of slowing down as it whirls is picking up speed.  Look out world, here we come!

So what does acting my age at 88 look like in 2017 given our pan-generational, extended family that is constantly getting ready to celebrate some family member’s birthday, or baptism, or confirmation, or graduation, or marriage (plus anniversaries), or promotion, or emergency or any of a myriad of other significant life event.  These are no send-a-card deals.  Each requires planning, coordination, commitment – and presence more than presents.  We love it. 

While all this goes on we also weep with those who weep their way through break ups, broken bones, challenging diagnoses and zillions of other life setbacks.  In addition to all that Audie and I stand ready with a sympathetic ear and an encouraging word.   After 88 years of dealing with life’s ups and down we’ve been there and done that, which gives us a lot to share.  Pooling all that reminds me of a favorite Rich Bimler-ism: “Getting older is the only way to live.”  We add, “…if you want to.”  And we do – which is what this issue of JW is all about. 

  • It’s about the rising number of us whom God has reserved to live 85 years and beyond under Mordecai’s “… for such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14}
  • It’s about the scary discovery that, like it or not, we are pioneers with little precedent from the past to fall back as we not-so-bravely face this new world.
  • It’s about being willing, under the Word, to adjust our way of viewing the challenges that our descendants, among whom we even now live, are facing.

Margaret Mead wrote a classic entitled. “Coming of Age in Samoa”.  Zeroing in on the title we might paraphrase it for any who live long enough – and care: “Coming of Age as an Octogenarian in the USA”.   Hey – that’s me.  You?

Blessings,

Charlie

Just Watching – April 2017

Snoopy, The Dash and Abraham

Snoopy

I’m fascinated that Peanuts, the handiwork of cartoonist Charles Schulz, who died in 2000 at the age of 78, is still appearing in the Chicago Trib, 17years after Schulz’s death.  Might it be because he published timeless cartoons like the one of Charlie Brown and his dog Snoopy sitting at the edge of a pier looking out at a sunset subscripted with:  

Charlie Brown:  Some day we will all die.

Snoopy:  True, but on all other days we will not.

As I get older I accept the reality of Charlie Brown’s “someday”.  Instead of anxiously awaiting my end time I spend my days living life to its fullest each day while planning for how best to use whatever tomorrows God has already allocated to me (Psalm 139:16-18).   No Cryogenics for me – parked in some deep freeze hoping someone in the future will invent the replacement part I need, unfreeze me, slip it in and restore me to life again.  Hey!  Haven’t they heard?  It’s already a done deal called the resurrection.  It’s what Jesus discussed with Mary at her brother’s tomb (John 11:25).  As a matter of fact because that is such a “done deal”, and I believe it, my life focus is not on God’s tomorrow for me.  It’s on today, the “all others” to which Snoopy points.

The Dash

Linda Ellis wrote a poem in 1996 entitled, The Dash.  It is copyrighted so I won’t copy it in full here.  But it can be easily accessed on Google.  But I can reference the first lines which are:

“I read of a man who stood to speak at the funeral of a friend.  He referred to the dates on her tombstone from beginning to end…”

With that she shifts the poem’s focus not to the tombstone’s birth or death dates but to the dash that separates them.  Her theme is that life is what happens during that dash.   Snoopy says so, too.

In one sense the Bible is the story of people living out their dash.  The genealogies of the Old and New Testaments mention many of the “dashers” between Adam and Jesus (or Jesus and Adam), sometime in detail, sometime only by name.  Like everyone face to face with life I’m sure they all had to deal with ups and downs, lots of them.  The bright spots in the Old Testament (or in secular ancient history) are when God takes the initiative, intervenes and saves the day nowhere of greater significance than His provision of Jesus’ birth-life-death-resurrection-ascension-and-session.  That was a game changer.  With Him my life’s  “dash” shifts from a sorry story of my trying to do my best to earn God’s favor on my “other days” – and failing – to being one of God’s people living the full life because I have already gotten God’s favor by accepting (with Abraham of old) what God has done for us all through Jesus Christ.

Life lived as an offering to God transforms our tombstone’s “dash” from a recitation of “coulda-beens” and “shoulda-beens” to what Paul describes in Romans 12:1ff as a life that “is holy and acceptable to God”.

Saying it that way sounds awfully churchy but it’s what the Bible means when it urges us to live a life of faith while doing to and for others  what we would like done to and for us.  That’s what the “dash” of God’s people looks like.

Pastors, parents, leaders, congregations, families, neighbors, friends, ME – how’s it going with our “dash”? 

Abram/Abraham

I can’t even guess how many times I have read Genesis 11:27 through 25:7 where the fascinating story of Abraham – first known as Abram – can be found.  I’m rereading that section in two or three chapter chunks with two classes each Sunday and a third on Wednesday right now.  Plowing through the same material on three occasions each week makes the story different.  But when I tie in that each class has its own personality and insights reading about that man of old makes for a heady and evolving brew.

One thing that’s changing the way I see Abram/ham are all the details the writer of Genesis doles out casually and generously.  There are lots of specific dates keyed to Abram/ham’s actions.   And lots of family interplay between Uncle Abram/ham and nephew Lot to say nothing about the interactions of Abram/ham and his sister/wife (that’s right) Sarah.  She must have been a dominating handful as a 10 well into her AARP days.  Think about it.

Who got the idea and “persuaded” Abram/ham to father a child by her maid?  And who blamed Abram/ham when her position as Queen-of-the-camp was challenged after said maid became pregnant – and Sarah was not?  And who ragged said maid until she could take it no more and ran away only returning after an angel told her to?   And who did the same thing to her maid again 13 years when she ran said maid – and teen age son – out of the family and into the wilderness? And who stood by and let her do all that?  Oh, my! 

Abram/ham had better moments and based on his conversations with God trusted in what He told him – somewhat.  I can somewhat understand Abram/ham’s actions over the years given that God seemed to be taking His time at keeping the promises He made.  Isaac didn’t finally show up until Abram/ham had reached the century mark and Sarah was 90.  They waited a l-o-o-o-n-g time for Isaac to arrive.

There’s more to it than the snippets I’ve offered but the Abram/ham story in Genesis shows how human he was and how Divine were the Father’s plans for him.  What struck me as I read and reread the Genesis narrative was that the initiator of actions that made a difference was always God.  After every tight situation in which Abram/ham put himself it was God who bailed him out leaving him better off than before and in the process sent a message down the halls of time to you and me.  The message?  May the “dash” on our tombstone mimic Abraham’s as it was explicated by Genesis 15:6 and Galatians 3:6.

When my “someday” has come and gone my name, my birth date and my “someday”, complete with a separating “dash” will do.   Plus maybe an asterisk and either of those two verses that are based on the Father sending His Son to save me and by the Spirit gives me saving faith. 

Here’s to Snoopy, the dash and my prototype, Abraham.

Blessings,

Charlie

Just Watching – March 2017

Living Life Between Here and There

Remember Abbot and Costello? One of their vaudeville routines had Costello emphatically claiming he could prove Abbott wasn’t really on the stage with him.  There was side splitting lead-in to that outlandish assertion but I can’t remember it.  I do remember how Costello proved his point.

       Costello:  Are you in Paris, France?

       Abbott:  Of course not.

       Costello: Are you in Dallas, Texas?

       Abbot:  No.

Costello:  If you’re not in Paris or Dallas you must be somewhere else – and if you are somewhere you are obviously not here.

In Kansas, some of my youth folks found that stage banter hilarious.  But as I lay it out today, I guess you had to be there – which is what’s on my mind right now.  There, I mean.  And here, too.

One of Lyle Schaller’s many memorable teaching lines is, “It’s hard to get from here to there if you don’t know where here is.”  While here once was the focus of that Abbot-and-Costello comedy routine it’s a much more serious topic for many of us today.  We can trip on it so easily. 

For example, as grandparents we can lapse into talking to our grandchildren and, sounding like we are their parents, dole out unsolicited advice.  Oops! 

Or we can see ourselves as one of our grandchild’s peers when in truth growing up in 2017 is a vastly different experience than was coming of age in the 1940s or 50s.  It takes a lot of listening and watching to understand what’s going on in today’s world.  Most of us aren’t very good at it either because their here and our here are worlds apart.

Meanwhile life in my own brave new world is very confusing as I work at adopting new life skills while adapting old ones needed for living life after 75 (better make that 85) to its fullest.   While this may well be my Father’s world, it’s not the world of my own father, and certainly not that of my long gone grandfather.  Things have changed.

One of the things that makes making it in the 21st century so different and so difficult is dealing with Lyle Schaller’s other shoe:  “It’s hard to get from here to there if you don’t know where there is.”  We are Rip Van Winkles, deja vu.   Among things that are different between Rip and post-85 folks who are alive and kicking in 2017 are the ever-expanding range of life issues with which we grapple that are windshield issues not rear view mirror concerns.  We have more of life to face than that for which we probably had planned.  Wasn’t it George Burns who in his 90s said, “If I’d known I was going to live this long I would have taken better care of myself.”?  What that insight means to me is that George found himself facing more there than he had thought or planned for.   Me, too.

As an example Audie and I got married in 1953.  Soon after we headed south to serve a church in Florida, our 1949 Plymouth packed with most of what we owned.  Now, 64 years later, while dealing with assorted aches and pains we also have concerns for eight sons and daughters by birth and marriage that are part of our world today, over twenty grandchildren using the same standard of measurement, and a dozen wondrous, water-walking great grandchildren who fill our house with joy when they visit.  And there are more (maybe many more) still on the way.  That’s a lot of there piled up on the plate of two octogenarians who started out as a twosome.  

While I know and anticipate the end of my there that is spelled out in Psalm 139:16 (“…in thy book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them…) I, together with others who are older, are faced with the “dash” that will be on my headstone – the one between the year of my birth and the year of my death.  It is filled with questions with which I deal daily.  Some of them (but only some) are:

  • Am I financially and physically prepared to care for my spouse and myself as my there takes shape?
  • When should I develop and implement an action plan for my there?
  • Where is the best place for us to live out there?
  • What decisions need to be made to help good things happen leading up to and during my there?

Those are the kinds of questions that need to surface and be dealt with as everyone’s there matures.  They need careful concern because anything less will make life unnecessarily rocky not only for ourselves but for all those with hearts open to us.  Denial is an absolute no-no.

Overarching both the here and there of God’s children, no matter their age, is His Easter promise beautifully laid out in John 3:16.  Trusting that doesn’t keep us not from dealing with the realities we face daily.  It rather encourages us to live out our there with expectation, joy and confidence.

Easter blessings,

Charlie